Lt. Dorina Petre was the only female standing in formation with nearly 200 U.S. and Romanian Special Forces soldiers. Her small framed stature stood out amongst the men with green, burgundy and blue berets even though she was wearing a green beret herself. She did not feel out of place however, since she was surrounded by the men who knew her plight and the legacy of her last name, so much so that they fought for her to be assigned to their ranks.
In a simple, yet emotional ceremony, Dorina was presented the U.S. Bronze Star medal on behalf of her husband, Maj. Marcel Petre, who was killed in April 3, 2009 in Afghanistan while serving as a detachment commander for Romanian Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha 012. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of major.
The Bronze Star is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service.
Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe presented the medal to Dorina on Sept. 2, at the Romanian Special Forces Headquarters in Tirgu Mares, Romania. Speaking to the formation of troops, Repass expressed his gratitude to Maj. Petre’s service in support of the International Security Assistance Force.
“It is with a heavy heart that I provide this award and I want you to know that it is a big deal for the U.S. to do that,” Repass said as he scanned the formation and looked directly at Dorina. “In our country we have a saying, ‘Where do we get such men?’ …valor, bravery, courage and honor are their hallmarks. We ask nothing in return except for the respect of our peers, our unit, and that we never disappoint those that we fight in combat with.”
As she stepped out of ranks and stood before Repass, she fought back tears in her eyes when the narrative recommendation about her husband’s courageous and meritorious service on the battlefield was read aloud.
The final paragraph of the narrative read, “Captain Petre’s leadership, demeanor, and professionalism exemplify the character traits of the Special Forces Officer. His courage in the face of enemy fire, development of NATO SOF partnership, Afghan National Security Forces, and application of combat power dramatically disrupted insurgent activities throughout Logar Province providing local villagers a safer, more secure environment.”
Petre was recommended for the award by Master Sgt. Joshua Whitty, team sergeant, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and the two became great friends during their deployment together in support of ISAF special operations forces missions. Reflecting on his friendship with Petre, Whitty revealed a wide grin.
“Captain Pete, as we affectionately called him, was very upbeat and aggressive all the time,” Whitty said. “He always wanted to do the next operation because he wanted his team to get more experience as a Special Forces unit. His famous quote was, ‘We have news?’
“He always wanted to get involved and we would bring him in as we were tracking a target to get the last bit of intelligence. He would come in with his famous quote and I would often counter, ‘No Pete, no news yet.’”
On the fateful day of April 3, 2009, Whitty’s team was partnered with Petre’s ODA and while maneuvering into position to gain fire superiority against an enemy stronghold, Petre was mortally wounded.
Months after his redeployment back to Germany, Whitty admitted that he struggled at times dealing with the loss of his fellow comrade in arms.
“At that point we lived together for six months and we got to be really good friends,” Whitty said. “For me being one of the guys making decisions, it was really hard because I sometimes wonder if my decisions led to his death or if I could have done something different. I still think about it and I know I can’t go back.”
To be there to witness Dorina receive the Bronze Star was especially gratifying for Whitty. After initially recommending Petre for the award, he was told that members of foreign armies did not qualify for the Bronze Star. Eventually, after conducting extensive research, he learned otherwise.
“I found out later that it is possible for foreign soldiers to get American medals, so I started the process again – I was relentless in my effort to make this happen,” Whitty said. "I think it’s the right thing to do to recognize our fallen brothers whether they’re from the United States or an allied country. They’re in the same fight with us and they deserve the same recognition as us when they are killed in action.”
As for Dorina, she finally shed the tears she was withholding during the ceremony. Holding her three-year-old daughter in her arms, she was overwhelmed with emotion after receiving the award.
“This is a great honor for me to receive this on behalf of his [Maj. Petre’s] actions on the battlefield of Afghanistan,” she said. “To see the U.S. Soldiers here makes it more meaningful and special. It shows they appreciate him for not only the soldier he was, but for the man he was.
“Each time the Americans come here to Romania to train with us, it shows their commitment to what my husband was fighting for and what he died for. It truly means a lot and I appreciate their support.”
Standing in formation with his fellow Romanian comrades, several of which he fought side-by-side with, to witness Dorina receive the Bronze Star was gratifying to Whitty.
“She knows that Captain Pete didn’t die in vain,” Whitty said. “This ceremony and this medal show that we haven’t forgotten about his sacrifice and that our commitment to our NATO allies is strong. We’re not just going to take these guys out into combat and just forget about them – we’re going to take care of them in the long run.”